Ask Dr. Giles: I am having problems trying to help my husband feel steady

Michele writes:

My husband is just coming to terms with the fact that he will not go on much longer. Maybe days/weeks. He is obviously very depressed ( this was a shock as he really expected to go through many years of treatments like Jeff G.) Am having problems trying to help him feel steady, as he hates getting “weepy eyed” and feels it is a loss of time and energy and makes everyone terribly sad. I have tried to encourage him to let it go..he has reason to feel sad. He has also upped the antidepressants, but it is weird, they seem to have little or no effect now. He is totally against talking to a therapist or someone else as it is excruciating for him to speak of all this and more importantly talk about himself. He is a private and shy person, and the emotion of it all is very painful for him. Any suggestions appreciated.

My heart goes out to you and your husband. Contemplating the end of one’s life is a sobering experience that can have a transforming effect on self and on our relationships with those around us. I’ve witnessed several people face the inevitability of their own death and, combined with others’ writings on the subject, have come to a few conclusions:

Knowing that death is coming gives us the advantage of getting things in order (funeral services, last-minute business, how/where to spend the last days/weeks, etc.).

Knowing that death is coming gives us time to take inventory of the life we have lead and celebrate what it has been.

Knowing that death is coming allows us to discuss how and for what we want to be remembered.

Knowing that death is coming provides us with the opportunity to make absolutely sure those closest to us know how we feel about them.

Having said all this, however, it is also important to recognize that each person has the right to face death in his or her own way. Given the short amount of time he has left, I doubt your husband is going to drastically change his approach. My advice is to respect the approach he has chosen and support him in his choice. It may or may not be the approach you choose for yourself. You certainly would not want to make him feel like he did not measure up to your expectations in the way he dealt with his own death. If you choose to be more open with your emotions, you will want to find at least one trusted friend (and a therapist!) who can hear you out and help you sort through your experience. You did not mention whether you had children, but if you do have children, I would suggest you help them address their emotions, too. See my earlier response to Jeff G about talking with children.

This difficult time will be sweetest if we remain flexible enough to allow all involved to grieve as they see fit.